The $1.3 million upgrades at Sugar Creek Golf & Tennis include a new clubhouse that opened on April 1, new locker rooms, a conference room, and a drive-up for bag drop-offs.
Marie Dunovant, president of Sydmar Golf & Sports Management, which operates Sugar Creek Golf & Tennis, says golfers are returning to the course.
Bobby Williams and Les Farr play golf at Sugar Creek Golf & Tennis on Tuesday.
Facility operator Marie Dunovant chats with (from left), brothers Everett and Elliott Williams, and Mitch Brown. The new clubhouse, built at a cost of $1.3 million, opened for business on April 1.
What a difference a year makes.
Last May, golfers and tennis players at Sugar Creek Golf & Tennis and their visitors had a dingy clubhouse with aging locker rooms and a roof that invited the rain in.
This May, a new clubhouse with ceiling-to-floor windows showers golfers and guests with sunlight as they sit in the tastefully decorated lounge and dining area.
Those perched at the bar can watch a big-screen television as they sip and dine.
Don Milligan of Stone Mountain was very impressed Tuesday when he stopped by to pick up a bucket of balls in the pro shop.
“My goodness, this is gorgeous,” he said. “I hadn’t been here since the renovations and I wasn’t expecting all this.”
The $1.3 million upgrades, which included tearing down the old clubhouse and building a new one at the DeKalb County-owned property, were completed in March and opened on April 1.
Players and guests have been effusive in their praise for the upgrades that include a stylish building that is fully ADA-compatible, new locker rooms, a conference room, offices, and drive-up for bag drop-offs.
Marie Dunovant, president of Sydmar Golf & Sports Management, which operates the facility for the county, is revelling in the positive feedback.
When she first arrived at the course in 2008, Dunovant mostly heard complaints from players frustrated with the decades-old clubhouse, the aging locker rooms, and rough greens on the course.
Now, players of all races and hues are coming back.
On May 14, brothers Everett and Elliott Williams of Oakwood, Ga., and their friend Mitch Brown of Atlanta were having refreshments in the clubhouse before hitting the links.
They were taking advantage of the course’s Tuesday and Thursday $10 golf special to walk the course or $20 to drive a cart.
“It’s a good deal,” Everett Williams said. “We couldn’t pass it up.”
They liked what they found two months ago and have been coming back weekly since.
Dunovant said when all the issues are fixed at Sugar Creek, it will be one of metro Atlanta’s great jewels.
“This is where you can come play golf, play tennis, and have breakfast and lunch,” she said. “This is the best facility on the southeast side of Atlanta.”
Still, Dunovant admits that the course is not yet up to par.
Regular players complain that the greens are slow, the fairways are patchy, the bunkers lack adequate sand, and that there isn’t a good way to irrigate the course since the Army Corps of Engineers stopped the county from damming the South River to water it.
Dunovant said she and her staff of 20, which includes her husband and the facility’s general manager, Jeff Dunovant, are racing the clock to make improvements in time for the South DeKalb Rotary Club’s June 10 Golf Tournament and Commissioner Stan Watson’s annual Father’s Day Tournament on June 14.
In April, they began aerating the course, and regular golfers say they are already noticing the difference.
John Hudd, a retiree from Stone Mountain, plays at the course daily with his Elite Club of 16 mostly 60- and 70-year-olds. He said the new clubhouse is wonderful.
“I like everything,” he said. “But the main thing is that they are working on the golf course. Yesterday they cut the greens and fairways. If they get the watering problem sorted out, it will be a beautiful golf course.”
Bobby Williams, who was playing 18 holes on Tuesday with his buddy Les Farr, bemoans the condition of the bunkers.
“It’s at least a couple of years that they haven’t had enough sand,” he said. “Maybe they should have a special game where we pay to play so that they can buy some sand.”
DeKalb County, which also owns Mystery Valley Golf Course in Stone Mountain, assembled the management of both courses under the umbrella Georgia Golf Partners LLC last year. The partnership comprises Sydmar Golf Management at Sugar Creek and CGL of Savannah at Mystery Valley. Its new five-year contract began in February 2012 and runs through January 2017.
Now that the thorny clubhouse issue is fixed, Dunovant said golfers want to see improvements on the golf course.
Since last year, she has been beefing up the staff to 20 and says she has a dedicated group of 50 volunteers who work an eight-hour shift a week manning cart pickup and return and as course advisers in exchange for playing all the golf they want.
“They are the heartbeat of the course,” Dunovant said Tuesday.
With the new contract, Sydmar also assumed responsibilities for the agronomy at the course. Dunovant said her crew of six employees is working hard to improve the greens.
Williams, who has been golfing at Sugar Creek for 20 years, said greens are already responding to the attention they are being given.
“I can tell the difference,” he said.
Hudd, who had golfed at Sugar Creek for 25 years, said Dunovant is doing a wonderful job.
“When the other company [that managed the course] left, they took all the tools,” he said. “She has been trying to build it back up.”
Marvin Billups, DeKalb Parks & Recreation Department deputy director, said that sorting out the course’s water issue is a top priority for the county.
“Before, what we heard from golfers was that the building was not up to par,” he said. “We put a lot of money into it to bring it up to par. Now the irrigation system is a priority. That would be one of the hurdles we would have to get behind us.”
The course used to be able to draw water from nearby South River but was told by the Army Corps of Engineers to cease the practice of damming the river.
Billups said his department and the county’s Public Works and Facility Management departments are working with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to come up with a solution but that they haven’t yet settled on one.
“We may have to put in a new system like we did at Mystery Valley, but we don’t know yet,” Billups said on May 15. “How they manage the storage of water to irrigate the golf course is one of the things to bring up to par.”
Billups said that water is critical to building and keeping up the golf course’s turfs and fairways.
“It begins and ends with water,” he said. “We understand clearly. When I go out to play, I want to feel good in the environment. Whether you played good or bad, those are the little things that take the edge off the your enjoyment. If you don’t grow the grass, you don’t have the course golfers expect to play on. Even though we have had a wet spring, we can’t depend on Mother Nature to do it all.”
Billups said the water challenges won’t stop the county from having a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new clubhouse.
He said it should take place before the end of the summer but did not have a date at press time Thursday.
“We have a beautiful building there now and we need to celebrate that,” he said.
The clubhouse is available for rent for weddings, showers, parties and other special events.
In the six weeks since it opened, Dunovant says they have hosted a graduation reception, a fraternity party and golf tournament.
The facility also is hosting its annual golf and tennis summer camps.
Sugar Creek Golf & Tennis is at 2706 Bouldercrest Road in Atlanta. For more information, visit www.sugarcreekga.gov or call 404-241-7671.